Who will make the European Ryder Cup team?
With one event to go there is still one automatic place up for grabs and four picks
Thorbjorn Olesen currently occupies the final automatic Ryder Cup qualifyng spot for Europe. Photo: Reuters
Just one tournament to go.
At the conclusion of this week’s Made in Denmark event on the European Tour we will know the eight automatic qualifiers for the European Ryder Cup team before Thomas Bjorn completes his team with four wildcard picks three days later.
And it’s still very much all to play for in the race for the final automatic spot. The top four players on the European points list are already confirmed to wear the European colours at Le Golf National in Paris next month – those four being Francesco Molinari, Justin Rose, Tyrrell Hatton and Tommy Fleetwood – while Jon Rahm, Rory McIlroy and Alex Noren are guaranteed their spots from the world points list.
That leaves just one place up for grabs and it is currently held by Thorbjorn Olesen. The Dane didn’t play in the Czech Masters over the weekend where Pádraig Harrington was pipped to the title by Andrea Pavan, but he will tee it up in his native country this week as he looks to cement that spot.
Eddie Pepperell and Matthew Fitzpatrick will also compete in Denmark in the hope of pushing Olesen out of the team. For Pepperell to take eighth spot he will need to win his second European Tour title of the season and for Olesen to finish outside the top seven while Fitzpatrick also needs a victory and for Olesen to finish outside the top 12.
It it, therefore, completely in Olesen's hands. A top seven finish and he will make his Ryder Cup debut.
Meanwhile veterans Ian Poulter, Paul Casey and Henrik Stenson, as well as 2016 debutant Rafa Cabrera-Bello, tee it up at TPC Boston for the Dell-Technologies Championship – the second event in the FedEx Cup playoffs. With this week’s event in the US starting on Friday and finishing on Monday due to the fact that it is Labour Day, points will not count in the Ryder Cup standings.
That means that Poulter, Casey, Stenson and Cabrera-Bello will all be relying on captain’s picks if they are to make it.
Also playing Stateside – and therefore also relying on a captain’s pick – is Irish Open champion Russell Knox who currently sits 10th in the European team standings and would feel he has a point to prove after being snubbed for a captain’s pick by Darren Clarke two years ago.
Were Olesen or Pepperell to make the team it would mean that five of the eight automatic qualifiers would be playing in their first Ryder Cup, meaning captain Thomas Bjorn may well opt for experience in his wildcards.
Thomas Pieters was one of the standout performers in Europe’s defeat at Hazeltine two years ago when he combined with McIlroy to win three matches before also taking a point in his singles clash with JB Holmes. The Belgian recorded a tied-ninth finish in Prague on Sunday and heads for this week’s event in Denmark as a former winner. A strong performance – coupled with the fact that McIlroy would be more than keen to pair up with the 26-year-old again – may well swing a captain’s pick in his favour.
Poulter’s Ryder Cup record speaks for itself and it would be a major shock if Bjorn was to leave him out while Stenson’s partnerships with Justin Rose could be enough to gloss over his indifferent form of late.
Casey has not played a Ryder Cup since 2008 after relinquishing his European Tour membership and effectively killing his chances of selection but, since taking membership back up after the 2016 event, he has been right in the picture for the team that will go to Paris. A strong finish in Boston this week could well see him impress Bjorn enough to make his fourth appearance at the biennial event.
And what of Sergio Garcia? The Spaniard failed to make it into the FedEx Cup playoffs after a disastrous final nine holes at the Wyndham Championship and told the Golf.com podcast recently that he most likely would not accept a selection as an assistant captain.
Garcia has had a disastrous season which included missed cuts at all four Major championships and it is only his experience from eight previous Ryder Cup appearances which has kept him in the picture for a selection and his one and a half points won alongside Cabrera-Bello at Hazeltine may be enough for both Spaniards to receive wildcards. Garcia opted not to play in Denmark this week or, indeed, in Prague last week despite the fact that those avenues were open to him to show Bjorn some form and force a place in the team.
For the US team the selection picture became even clearer on Sunday night with Bryson DeChambeau’s victory at the Northern Trust rendering him all but certain of a pick from Jim Furyk while Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are expected to make up two more spots when Furyk announces his first three picks on September 4th. The US captain will name his final selection on September 9th with one of Xander Schauffele, Matt Kuchar, Kevin Kisner, Tony Finau and Zach Johnson the likely candidate to join the eight automatic qualifiers, those being Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Webb Simpson.
McIlroy will be the lone Irishman competing on either the PGA Tour or the European Tour this week when he gets his FedEx Cup playoff campaign underway in Boston. The 2016 champion currently sits 28th in the standings but can still claim the $10 million jackpot if he can find some of his best form over the next few weeks.